The Sick Man of Europe

Charge of the Light Brigade

The Sick Man of Europe

By Stuart Millson, moonlighting again

Engulfed by 220,000 Covid-19 infections and with a death toll to date of 32,000 souls, the United Kingdom has, in the current pandemic, truly become the “sick man of Europe” – the evocative phrase used in the 19th-century to describe the crumbling Ottoman Empire. Second only to the United States in its rate of infection and overtaking the former viral epicentres of Italy and Spain, Britain’s ability to deal with the virulent virus now sweeping the world has been, at best, ineffective. Despite the magnificent efforts of the National Health Service – not to mention the work of the British Army in building a temporary hospital in just nine days – our country’s response has been found wanting.

Despite the examples before us of countries such as New Zealand and Taiwan, which had the foresight to immediately close their airports, thereby preventing the circulation of the disease and its possible circulation back to countries not yet infected, the United Kingdom – with the agreement of its scientists and public health officials – allowed its runways to remain open. Only now, a month after the disease was given time to embed itself, has the Government finally decided to apply quarantine rules to airport travellers – a classic example of shutting the gate after the horse has bolted. [Editorial note; travellers quarantined accordingly will be trusted to isolate themselves!]

The British public, meanwhile, has been shocked by the fact that protective equipment for NHS and care staff has been in dangerously short supply – with reports suggesting that the Government failed to plan for a scenario in which this country succumbed to a major health emergency within a short time. One thinks back to the Crimean War; to 1916, when our army in France ran short of shells; and to the years 1939 and 1940, when an air armada was massing across the Channel, while the RAF was equipped with little more than 500 planes. Does Britain never learn from its mistakes? Will we never renounce this delusion that “it-cannot-happen-to-us”?

In the last month, the Government – by dint of its relentless “stay at home” message to the public, has at least succeeded in “slowing” the progress of the Coronavirus. By confining ourselves to our living rooms and our gardens (if we have them) and by shutting shops and offices, the disease – to use a motoring analogy – is now travelling at 30-40 mph, rather than 80. At the outset of the crisis, the UK’s Chief Scientific authority stated that a fatality figure of 20,000 (terrible in itself) would represent, in the scheme of things, a favourable outcome. We have now gone far beyond that figure and continue to edge forward to the “worst-case-scenario” of 40,000 deaths. So it was indeed a surprise when on the evening of the 11th May, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced to the country a confusing watering-down of his earlier instruction to remain at home.

Without briefing the devolved governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the UK Government’s newly-calibrated and supposedly “nuanced” message of “staying alert” when venturing out to garden centres or even to our places of work, has prompted a crisis in the battle against the disease – and in the affairs of the United Kingdom itself. Boris Johnson’s apparently unilateral statement (Scotland’s First Minister reportedly only heard of the change of policy through reading last weekend’s newspapers) has created a situation whereby two thirds of the island of Great Britain is no longer endorsing British Government health policy.

Resolutely and rightly, in the view of this commentator, keeping to the original “stay at home” policy, the devolved governments have arguably exhibited a greater sense of community compared to Whitehall, with its preoccupation with the health of the economy – and most certainly a difference in political expression. For we are now witnessing the birth of a genuinely national, counter-UK impulse, certainly in Wales and Scotland (less so in traditionally Unionist Ulster) – a desire to look after the health and well-being of their citizens – to take on the responsibility for true self-government, having decided that the UK is unfit for the task. Fuelled by Westminster’s failure to consult over Covid-19 – the fragmentation of the United Kingdom seems more real than ever before.

It seems absurd that on a borderless island, two of the constituent nations of the country now have different public health policies from that of their larger neighbour, England – and at a time when we collectively face a scourge that knows no borders. This is not just a failure of communication, but a failure of our political structure and the management of our tottering state. If we escape from this pandemic any time soon, the political class will be compelled not just to undertake a thorough reappraisal of our health and emergency planning, but to address the need for a fair, federal system – for clear-cut responsibilities and powers for all of our constituent nations, including England. The days of edicts from Westminster and the rule of “experts” are over. The landscape has surely changed forever.

Stuart Millson is Classical Music Editor of QR

This entry was posted in Current Affairs and Comment, QR Home and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The Sick Man of Europe

  1. STEPHEN C DEAN says:

    agree still think pm is the best person for the job as there doesnot seem any one else,a call for a national day of prayer .

  2. David Ashton says:

    New Zealand has managed without a national day of prayer. However, it could be said that our rulers have done those things they ought not to have done, and have not done those things they ought to have done, and there is no health in them.

    This is the latest UK catastrophe in a succession of “mistakes” and “wrong turnings” from WW2 to HS2. So far as immigration and multiculturalism are concerned, we now have persuasive proof of method in the madness.

  3. Stuart Millson says:

    It is so odd and incongruous to see the sort of advertisements now on TV from the supermarkets: the cheerful, “let’s get back to normal” advertising – and “let’s look forward to summer”. This is in a country where 11,600 people have died horrible, lonely deaths in “care homes” – where a miasma of Covid infections (a quarter-of-a-million) has settled across the land, resulting in (say the official figures) over 35,000 deaths.

    Meanwhile, millionaire footballers agitate to resume their commercial sport – while small music festivals, artists and freelance musicians struggle even to be heard.

    The “we’re looking into it”/”some mistakes may have been made” tone of the Government and scientists is very worrying. To say the least.

  4. David Ashton says:

    See also:
    Daniel Martin, “Top scientist warned ministers…” Daily Mail, 20 May.
    George Monbiot, “The UK was ready for this virus. Then we un-prepared”, The Guardian, Journal, 20 May.

    On the historic implications of the “Dunkirk Delusion”, David Reynolds: “And the saga of the little ships has been deployed again in the Covid-19 crisis, as a shorthand for the improvisation…1940 was the peak and it has been downhill all way…this country is now in the grip of an existential crisis….” New Statesman, 22 May 2020.

  5. Stuart Millson says:

    Britain’s alarmingly irresponsible rush “to ease the lockdown” (the Government and authorities have yet to take action on either their own UK-wide travelling advisers and ministers – not to mention the thousands crammed onto SE England beaches last weekend) is taking place against the following background: new Covid infections, totalling 8,000 a day (over 260,000 in total across the country); and a UK-registered fatality figure of 38,000 – although the Office for National Statistics puts the figure for just England and Wales at over 41,000. This is double the figure that, two months ago, the UK scientific leaders thought would be an acceptable containment level for the Coronavirus.

    Yesterday, the Chief Scientific Officer, Sir Patrick Vallance was quoted as saying that there is still a “significant burden of infection” and a “high level of new infections.”

    Interviewed on Sky News, an American scientific spokesman, Dr. Scott McNabb of Emory University, said (of his country): “… certain scientific decisions were made that were not right” and (as a general observation) – “We are subject to the virus. We do not control it.”

    The Daily Telegraph’s libertarian leader-writers, businesses with their eye on the balance sheet, over-optimistic ministers – and even Lord Lawson, interviewed on yesterday’s news, all believe that the lockdown has either gone too far or been a mistake. However, the crucial point that each has overlooked is that the lockdown might not have been, at first, so stringent had the Government done the right thing at the very outset of this modern plague: closed the ports and airports (as Taiwan and New Zealand did), thus preventing the virus from ever gaining a foothold in our country.

    • David Ashton says:

      Spot-on, Man of Kent.

      Meanwhile, we have the Cummings media-storm in a teacup alongside a sea-change in relationship with Red China that has resulted in inviting up to three million settlers from Hong Kong (Paddy Ashdown’s promise on stilts).

      Never in the field of English history has so much damage been done to so many by so few.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.